The clockwork fence


I sit at the my desk facing my balcony. Diffused sunlight through a cloudy sky casts a soft light in my study. On my left, a table fan whirs and whines, rhythmic, I believe, so the silence of solitude is bearable. I have found that there is a comfort in my isolation from the world. My desk is littered with empty packs of cigarettes, and there is a bowl to my right which I use as an ashtray. Occasionally, I light a cigarette and blow the cigarette smoke upwards, to see it unfurl like a grey flag. It collects around the door to the balcony and makes its way out into the street, where it disperses in the wind.

There is a van outside, parked on the street, and there is an old man I can see. He carries stocks for the departmental store below my flat. I can see the muscles in his neck strain under the weight of the things he carries. He walks heavily, his breath comes in short gasps for air and I can occasionally hear a wheeze. Years of living on this earth have given his eyes a glaze that looks, to me, like a weathering of paint. There is not much to say to the beauty of manual labour. I walk to the balcony occasionally to watch the cars and vans that ply the street. In each of them, I see someone looking out of the window where they, presumably, see me. I catch the eyes of countless strangers everyday and there is a wonder in what they see. What do they see? Do they see a young man with very long hair? Do they see a stranger? Do they see nothing at all?

Kochetov’s Do not regret me in my old age, plays on my speakers. The Russian Oktavist’s voice fills my apartment. Can those people walking on the pavement below hear this man’s voice? In moments of rare euphoria, I too sing my favourite operatic pieces, usually Luciano Pavarotti’s Ave Maria. It is an odd habit, I admit. It is rare to see appreciation of Classical music, and I often replay moments in my life to the background of these songs. Song, the word itself, means nothing. There is birdsong, there is the song of the evening, there are songs playing everywhere I go, but Classical Music is, music.

I walked to the Primary school to see Vivienne, the landlady’s daughter. I was just passing by when she called out to me from the fence that lined the basketball court and I looked up from my dreaming walk to see her, her green eyes looking at me from across the road. I hesitated a second and crossed the road to her and greeted her. It’d been months since I last saw her. I took in her hair, blonde, curled in wide curls and I noticed the thread that stuck out from her floral dress.

I can remember her smile, there was an ink stain on her index finger as she held up her hands, lightly grasping the school fence. A group of small children ran around the basketball court. Vivienne followed my eyes and we stood watching the children in their play. Her colleague kept a weather eye on them and Vivienne turned to me.

“Children”, she said. She has no lipstick on.

I have nothing to say that I can put into words. We seem to have the world now, as we stand across each other with a fence in between us. Her fingers lightly grasp the fence. I notice that she has no nail polish on. Her nails are very lightly pink. I light a cigarette and puff it, blowing the smoke away from her. I turn my head to the left and see the towers that house families and I could see a man cleaning his windows. I turned to face Vivienne and she took the cigarette out of my mouth. Her touch was soft, and for a moment her lips brushed my lips. She traced my lower lip with her thumb, straining through the fence. I let her. She touched the tip of my moustache trying to curl it. We are inches away from each other now. I can feel her soft breath, I can hear, I fancy, her heart. She put the cigarette to her lips and draws. She breathes out a soft cloud of cigarette smoke through her parted lips. It rolls out smoothly. I trace the bridge of nose up to her eyebrows and my eyes rest on hers. I reach out to her cheek, my hands on the fence. My fingers are too large, and I can’t stroke her cheek. My index finger is on her lips now, a touch so soft that I am not sure if I am just millimeters from her or miles away.

Her face is clear to me now, but the metallic touch of the rusted fence plays on my fingertips. She and I stood wordlessly but I could hear her voice as she whispered that I looked like a Prussian Officer. Her fingers stroke my cheek. She traces my jawline with her fingers, her eyes turn up to mine, and I can see them for the emeralds they are. Here we stand, a foreigner and a young girl in a floral patterned dress, and a gush of wind blows my hair. I touch it down and she pushes my spectacles up the bridge of my nose. The spell hasn’t broken as she steps away from the fence, her lips more set, smoking. She blows the smoke out of her lips and I want to feel them on my fingertips but my hands are too large. I stand at the fence grasping it with a forlorn determination. She smiles and  goes back into the school building. I stood where I was, watching her go, my lips still feeling her soft touch, but my fingers can only feel the powdery rust on the fence.























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